Over the past few days, local newspapers have carried a number of articles pertaining to employment of older workers. It seems that there is keen public interest in this issue.
I was quoted in The Straits Times’ article titled “‘No’ to age limit for security guards” (dated 2 November 2011). The incident as reported in the article piqued my interest, as I was surprised that two public sector employers made the oversight of including an age clause in the tenders they put up, despite having pledged to uphold fair employment practices in 2007. Thankfully, they were quick to rectify it after being notified.
I would like to offer my perspective pertaining to this incident and employment of older workers in general:
Age as a cut-off does not give a fair chance to those who may well be fitter and more able than younger workers
- Age as a cut-off does not give a fair chance to those who may well be fitter and more able than younger workers
- Our system is based on merit and so it is important that we ensure fair access to job opportunities for older Singaporeans
- Both the public and private sectors have a role to play in upholding fair employment practices, and the public sector can and should lead by example
- Older workers should not be seen as liabilities; they can be assets if we provide the right environment, through thoughtful redesigning of jobs, operating environment and processes, to overcome the physical realities that some of them face [footnotes 1a and 1b]
- Older Singaporeans who wish to work will be an increasingly valuable source of manpower, especially in light of the tightening of control over foreign workers; employed elderly residents form about 3.1% of our resident workforce, but this has been rising steadily since 1965 [footnote 2] and will likely to continue to rise
I had covered some of the points above in my speech at the opening of Parliament on 21 October 2011, and called for greater tripartite efforts in helping older Singaporeans who wish to work to have steady jobs and incomes. That segment was delivered in Mandarin (you may find the entire speech at https://www.facebook.com/#!/note.php?note_id=264424013599500). The English translation is appended below.
This is an issue that will require constant monitoring and effort, and I intend to pursue this at future Parliament sittings. We can and should help older Singaporeans who wish to work to have a fair chance of securing good jobs.
Many older Singaporeans, especially those who have not reached their retirement age, hope to continue to have a stable job. Among them, some may enjoy working and want to keep active; some have no choice but to press on as they need to survive and support their families. Regardless of the reason, it is important that we must ensure ample and fair employment opportunities for older Singaporeans who wish to work.
Unfortunately, many older Singaporeans face a greater challenge than others when looking for a job. According to a report released by the Ministry of Manpower and Department of Statistics, the median unemployment period for an older Singaporean was 12 weeks – 4 weeks longer than the median unemployment period for all citizens. Many of these older Singaporeans who wish to work but cannot find a job for a long time become what is known as “discouraged” workers. They believed a job hunt is futile.
A few months ago, I came across one such “discouraged” worker. He is a MacPherson resident in his late 50s and was not English educated. I had seen him around MacPherson a couple of times, and one day went up to chat with him. Through our conversations, I found out that he used to work as a driver, but had been unemployed for a while. Despite that, he would still put on his work clothes every morning, leave the house and then roam around. Why is this so? Because he did not want his wife to know that he was unemployed and worry about him. He also told me that he had been applying and going for job interviews, but to no avail. There were instances when he almost clinched a job, but then he had to declare his age, and afterwards, he would be greeted with “We’ll call you back”. They never called him back.
He is still looking for a job and we are trying to help him through the CDC. Still, it is tough-going and more needs to be done.
I believe his case is not unique in Singapore. If we want to build an inclusive society, where all Singaporeans can progress together, then we need to do more to help people like this resident of mine. Such efforts cannot be solely dependent on older job-seekers. Employers and the Government must give their strong support too.
Older workers have to upgrade themselves to become employable. Sometimes they have to retrain for a completely different type of work. The Government has introduced various programmes to encourage workers to upskill and retrain. This is heartening and I support these initiatives. But I would urge the administrators of such job programmes to be more patient with older workers, who may need more time to complete. It is not easy for someone who had been working 30 years in one field to switch to a completely different one. For those who never had an English education, this can become even more challenging. They need to be gently counselled to become willing to make the transition, and gradually guided to gain confidence to take on new and different jobs.
Employers and the Government should work more closely together too. For practical reasons, the Government has tightened up the control over foreign workers. Hence, older workers will become precious human resource. Employers should therefore change their mindset and attitude and see these workers as human assets with rich life experiences.
The Government had also rolled out programmes to encourage employers to hire older Singaporeans. For instance, the Advantage! Fund is a financial scheme offered to companies to redesign jobs and adapt working environment in better enabling older Singaporean workers to do their work and achieve their potentials. Hence, I hope that the Government will continue to encourage employers to make the necessary adjustments through a comprehensive policy framework.
I believe through the collaborative efforts of the tripartite partners, we can help the older Singaporeans who wish to work to have a steady job and income. They should not need to worry about the future.
1a. According to NSSC, 2005, MCYS, the top 3 problems faced by employed senior citizens are “not as strong as before” (16.2%), “feel tired easily” (15.4%) and “not as fast as before” (14.3%).
1b. Similar point was made in a note which I had posted previously (https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=194812483893987).
2. More information available at http://app1.mcys.gov.sg/Portals/0/Summary/research/State%20of%20the%20Elderly_Release%202.pdf